Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Academic Concept Of Pathological Altruism & Explaining The Left

At the WSJ, James Taranto is effuse in his praise for Barbara Oakley:

We don't think we'd ever heard of Oakland University, a second-tier institution in suburban Rochester, Mich., but Barbara Oakley, an associate professor in engineering, may help put the place on the map. Earlier this week Oakland's Oakley published a fascinating paper, "Concepts and Implications of Altruism Bias and Pathological Altruism," in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The paper is a concise summary of an innovative idea that informed Oakley's two recent books . . .

The PNAS paper has the virtue of brevity, running only eight pages despite including 110 footnotes. Yet it's remarkable for its breadth and depth. It introduces a simple yet versatile idea that could revolutionize scientific and social thought.

Oakley defines pathological altruism as "altruism in which attempts to promote the welfare of others instead result in unanticipated harm." A crucial qualification is that while the altruistic actor fails to anticipate the harm, "an external observer would conclude [that it] was reasonably foreseeable." Thus, she explains, if you offer to help a friend move, then accidentally break an expensive item, your altruism probably isn't pathological; whereas if your brother is addicted to painkillers and you help him obtain them, it is.

So, I clicked over to read the paper - and now agree with Mr. Taranto. What Oakley has posited is not new. Indeed, it has been perhaps the primary complaint as regards the acts of the left for decades, if not centuries. But what Ms. Oakley does is raise that complaint to academic acceptability. She puts it in the language of academia, explains it with clarity, and provides thorough documentation. This from Ms. Oakley:

The bottom line is that the heartfelt, emotional basis of our good intentions can mislead us about what is truly helpful for others. Altruistic intentions must be run through the sieve of rational analysis; all too often, the best long-term action to help others, at both personal and public scales, is not immediately or intuitively obvious, not what temporarily makes us feel good, and not what is being promoted by other individuals, with their own potentially self-serving interests. Indeed, truly altruistic actions may sometimes appear cruel or harmful, the equivalent of saying “no” to the student who demands a higher grade or to the addict who needs another hit. However, the social consequences of appearing cruel in a culture that places high value on kindness, empathy, and altruism can lead us to misplaced “helpful” behavior and result in self-deception regarding the consequences of our actions.

Pathological altruism can operate not only at the individual level but in many different aspects and levels of society, and between societies. Recognizing that feelings of altruism do not necessarily constitute objective altruism provides a new way of framing and understanding altruism. This previously unrecognized perspective in turn may open many new, potentially useful lines of inquiry and provide a framework to begin moving toward a more mature, scientifically informed understanding of altruism and cooperative behavior. The thesis of pathological altruism emphasizes the value of true altruism, self-sacrifice, and other forms of prosociality in human life. At the same time, it acknowledges the potential harm from cognitive blindness that arises whenever groups treat a concept as sacred.

Think about virtually all of the legislation that has come from the left over the past half century or more that has proven to be disastrous in the long run. Take for but one example the creation of the housing bubble, caused by social engineering and from which we have still not recovered. And indeed, Ms. Oakley does in fact address precisely that:

Ostensibly well-meaning governmental policy promoted home ownership, a beneficial goal that stabilizes families and communities. The government-sponsored enterprises Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae allowed less-than-qualified individuals to receive housing loans and encouraged more-qualified borrowers to overextend themselves. Typical risk–reward considerations were marginalized because of implicit government support. The government used these agencies to promote social goals without acknowledging the risk or cost. When economic conditions faltered, many lost their homes or found themselves with properties worth far less than they originally had paid. Government policy then shifted . . . the cost of this "altruism" to the public, to pay off the too-big-to-fail banks then holding securitized subprime loans. . . . Altruistic intentions played a critical role in the development and unfolding of the housing bubble in the United States.

The implications of "pathological altruism" as an academic theory and area of research are far reaching indeed. It is a concept that would require a level of rational analysis now routinely shouted down by the left. In a larger context, it would provide a challenge on every level to the left's post modernism. It would elevate objective facts as a counter point to pure emotionalism.

Taranto ends his column with this thought:

Oakley concludes by noting that "during the twentieth century, tens of millions [of] individuals were killed under despotic regimes that rose to power through appeals to altruism." An understanding that altruism can produce great evil as well as good is crucial to the defense of human freedom and dignity.


Approved Thoughts For Small Children

From the People's Cube via Maggie's Farm. And lest you think that this clever photo lacks any sort of basis in reality, this from Maggie's Farm:

Researcher Says that Berenstein Bears, Franklin the Friendly Turtle Perpetuate "Racist," "Socially Dominant Norms" to Children:

Parents who read their kids stories about happy, human-like animals like Franklin the Turtle or Arthur at bedtime are exposing their kids to racism, materialism, homophobia and patriarchal norms, according to a paper presented at the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences.


Thursday, June 13, 2013

Obama's Surveillance - Everything BUT Mosques

The massive surveillance apparatus that exists under Obama to combat "terrorism" seems to have one massive, gaping hole - it does not include mosques. This from IBD:

The White House assures that tracking our every phone call and keystroke is to stop terrorists, and yet it won't snoop in mosques, where the terrorists are.

That's right, the government's sweeping surveillance of our most private communications excludes the jihad factories where homegrown terrorists are radicalized.

Since October 2011, mosques have been off-limits to FBI agents. No more surveillance or undercover string operations without high-level approval from a special oversight body at the Justice Department dubbed the Sensitive Operations Review Committee.

Who makes up this body, and how do they decide requests? Nobody knows; the names of the chairman, members and staff are kept secret.

We do know the panel was set up under pressure from Islamist groups who complained about FBI stings at mosques. Just months before the panel's formation, the Council on American-Islamic Relations teamed up with the ACLU to sue the FBI for allegedly violating the civil rights of Muslims in Los Angeles by hiring an undercover agent to infiltrate and monitor mosques there.

Before mosques were excluded from the otherwise wide domestic spy net the administration has cast, the FBI launched dozens of successful sting operations against homegrown jihadists — inside mosques — and disrupted dozens of plots against the homeland.

. . . This is particularly disturbing in light of recent independent surveys of American mosques, which reveal some 80% of them preach violent jihad or distribute violent literature to worshippers.

What other five-alarm jihadists are counterterrorism officials missing right now, thanks to restrictions on monitoring the one area they should be monitoring?

Religious freedom is at the heart of our "civil rights," as set forth in the Bill of Rights. Our nation was founded on religious tolerance in the decades after the bloody European religious wars. But at that time, our nation was almost wholly sects of Christianity and Judaism.

Our only relationship to Islam at around the time of the founding was external. The merchant ships of our newly formed nation was under sustained attack the "Barbary pirates" - North African Islamic groups that justified their war on us on the basis of their religion, Islam. In a 1796 meeting of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams with an envoy from the pirates:

. . . [Adams and Jefferson] ‘took the liberty to make some inquiries concerning the ground of the pretensions to make war upon nations who had done them no injury.’ The ambassador [from the Barbary States] replied that it was written in their Koran, that all nations which had not acknowledged the Prophet were sinners, whom it was the right and duty of the faithful to plunder and enslave.” He claimed every one of their guys who was “slain in this warfare was sure to go to paradise.

An argument can be made that at the time of the crafting of the Bill of Rights, Islam was beyond the consideration of the drafters. Moreover, there is no corresponding doctrine of conquest and enslavement of non-believers in either Christianity or Judaism. Indeed, because of these and other related doctrines, Islam is as much a political system as it is a set of religious beliefs. While virtually everyone in this country would agree that there should be no compulsion as to religious beliefs, that alone should not in any way protect Muslims or mosques from full and unfettered surveillance and, where warranted, police action. Arguments to the contrary wrongly conflate Islam wholly with religion - and for many if not most sects of Islam, it is far more than just that.


Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Institution Of Arab Islamic Slavers

From Black Educator:

Here's a brief summation of the history of Arab enslavement of African Peoples. It is important to know this history in order to understand both the evolution of Western capitalism's slave trade and the current atrocities against Africans (by Africans) unfolding in the name of Islam and/or "Arab Civilization.

Islam & slavery by BLACKMUSICS

I touched upon a lot of this in my post, The Origins Of The Slave Trade & The Race Hustler's Holy Grail. The combination of ignorance and falsehoods that surrounds the historical - and modern - institution of black slavery is appalling. That combination is useful only in as much as so many have a stake in promoting slavery as an "original" sin of whites.

And slavery of blacks by Islamists is ongoing. The Washington Post ran a story less than a month ago, Timbuktu's Slaves Liberated As Islamists Flee, documenting the practice by Muslims of enslaving blacks in Mali. As disheartening as the story itself was, equally disheartening was some of the supremely historically ignorant comments. One in particular sticks in my craw - "Religious fundamentalists (conservatives) of all stripes have no problems with slavery." That statement is so hateful, so stupid, and so historically wrong that it leaves me in amazement. White Christian fundamentalists are the people that drove slavery not merely from our nation, but from acceptability on the world stage. The whites who in fact supported slavery, the KKK and other such institutions were Democrats. White Republicans started the NAACP. And the Republican Party was quite literally born out of opposition to slavery. Want more, go here and here.

Update: Almost as if on-cue, just as I am complaining about the complete and total rewrite of history by the left, MSNBC runs a retrospective on segregationist Alabama Governor George Wallace, the man who, in 1959, tried to stop blacks from integrating into then all-white Alabama schools. MSNBC identified George Wallace, who was a life long Democrat until registering as an Independent late in life, as a Republican. Scurrilous idiots.


Tuesday, June 11, 2013

A Real Scandal

Today, the Obama administration dropped its right to appeal a judge's decision mandating that the Abortion Plan B pill be made available over the counter to underage girls without limitation - no prescription necessary, no need for parental consent. I've written on this before (see here and here). It is the left's war on the family and on religion. It is replacing parental discretion with the left wing government's judgement on how children should be raised, and it is furthering the left's goal of sexualizing our children. Of all the scandals coming out of Washington today, this one is the least noticed, yet the one with the greatest potential long term ramifications.


Monday, June 10, 2013

NSA, Gen., Hayden, Mike Mukasey, Snowden & . . . China? (Updated)

Former NSA and later CIA director Gen. Michael Hayden is one of the people in the best position to discuss the NSA programs that aggregate vast amounts of "meta-data" on phone calls in, to and from the U.S. Here he is on the Fox News Sunday show, speaking of their use, value, and alluding to safeguards:

In the WSJ,former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey wrote today in full throated defense both of the NSA program and to assure that it is not being misused, drawing contrasts to the IRS. He also takes pains to point out that the type of meta-data being gathered by the NSA does not violate Article 4 of the Constitution.

I am inclined to agree that the NSA program is probably valid and legal. It is unfortunate for the nation that the exposure of this program comes on the heels of real scandals of government abuse of power. It is more unfortunate that this reveals yet more of our intelligence methods to those who would do us harm.

The leak of this information came from Edward Snowden, a 29 year old described in the WSJ:

Mr. Snowden told the Guardian he grew up in Elizabeth City, N.C., though his family later moved to Maryland. He described himself as having been a poor high school student who eventually obtained a GED. He enlisted in the Army in 2003, but left the military after a training accident. He started working as a security guard at an NSA site, went on to work for the CIA, and left that job in 2009, he told the Guardian.

I have real questions about how this joker got a top secret clearance. That aside, Snowden claims that he leaked the information on the NSA program because he was concerned with privacy and government overreach. But then he seeks asylum with . . . China? Well, Hong Kong, which is today a province of Communist China. Given Snowden's avowed motives, his choice of places to defect ought to be raising, well, red flags. This from former CIA agent Bob Baer on CNN today.

Update: The Daily Beast has a primer on how to keep "NSA at bay. Do government surveillance disclosures have you fearing Uncle Sam’s reach? Winston Ross looks at PGPs, secret phone apps, and burners like The Wire to cloak your digital trail."

Update 2: Dafyyd at Big Lizards agrees that the NSA program was probably Constitutional and non-intrusive to ordinary Americans. Says he, "Nevertheless, I have a very strong feeling (I'll make it a prediction) that, strangely enough, this non-scandal will turn out to be the most devastating scandal of the Obama administration." I concur in the reasoning he lays out in his post.

Law prof. William Jacobson at Legal Insurrection expresses the disquiet I and probably most feel about this massive gathering of data:

But I’m also concerned with what could be done with the information gathered about American citizens not suspected of a crime if put into the hands of politicians and political groups, and bureaucrats who work for or are sympathetic to such politicians and political groups.

That really is the crux of the issue as exists now. From Benghazi to Fast and Furious and, most importantly, to the IRS's multiple scandals, I have no trust that this information will not be misused by the left to punish political "enemies," as Obama has previously classed us on the right.

Also at Legal Insurrection, Mandy Nagy points out that the Snowden leak was largely already made public by NSA cryptologist Bill Binney in 2011 and even earlier than that by NSA employee Thomas Drake. The only thing that is new, really, is that the MSM and the left (to the extent there is a distinction) have taken note and are up in arms about all of this.


Saturday, June 8, 2013

Steyn On Our Orwellian Nation

This from Mark Steyn today:

When the state has the power to know everything about everyone, the integrity of the civil service is the only bulwark against men like Holder. Instead, the ruling party and the non-partisan bureaucracy seem to be converging. In August 2010, President Obama began railing publicly against “groups with harmless-sounding names like Americans for Prosperity” (August 9th, a speech in Texas) and “shadowy groups with harmless-sounding names” (August 21st, radio address). And whaddayaknow, that self-same month the IRS obligingly issued its first BOLO (Be On the Look-Out) for groups with harmless-sounding names, like “tea party,” “patriot,” and “constitution.”

It may be that the strange synchronicity between the president and the permanent bureaucracy is mere happenstance and not, as it might sound to the casual ear, the sinister merging of party and state. Either way, they need to be pried apart. When the state has the capability to know everything except the difference between right and wrong, it won’t end well.

And to put this in historical context:

So we know the IRS is corrupt. What happens then when an ambitious government understands it can yoke that corruption to its political needs? What’s striking as the revelations multiply and metastasize is that at no point does any IRS official appear to have raised objections. If any of them understood that what they were doing was wrong, they kept it to themselves. When Nixon tried to sic the IRS on a few powerful political enemies, the IRS told him to take a hike. When Obama’s courtiers tried to sic the IRS on thousands of ordinary American citizens, the agency went along, and very enthusiastically. This is a scale of depravity hitherto unknown to the tax authorities of the United States, and for that reason alone they should be disarmed and disbanded — and rebuilt from scratch with far more circumscribed powers.


Friday, June 7, 2013

The NSA - Scandals & Pseudo Scandals

This seemed a badly timed speech a month ago, given just before the IRS scandal broke. After yesterday's revelations, that the NSA is capturing "metadata" on virtually all of our calls and e-mails, the speech nears world record irony:

The NSA data mining of virtually all phone calls in, into and out of the U.S. is the latest flash point. It involves the NSA collecting the "meta-data" on these communications (as well as, it seems, programs relating to e-mails and credit card usage) ostensibly solely to sift through for "patterns" that should raise a national security flag. It is a fishing expedition that could have come right out of Orwell's "1984." But it is also a long running national security program that the WSJ, as well as virtually all of the Congresscritters read into the program, are at pains to defend.

Whether one supports or decries this program, there can be no argument that it at least stands at the outer boundary of our Fourth Amendment right to be free from "unreasonable" searches. Given that the threat we face today is existential and diffuse, all things being equal, I would look at this program as a necessary evil. But all things aren't equal today. The left doesn't want to win political fights, it wants to destroy those on the right as illegitimate and drive them wholly from the public square. They argue and act with virtually no intellectual honesty. Thus my concern, as I sit here, is that the government would use the NSA program to target their political enemies. I do not have anywhere near the information to give me confidence that this program could not be misused.

Moreover, there are two collateral aspects worthy of note. First, there was DNI James Clapper who, several weeks ago, in public hearings before the Senate Intelligence committee, flatly "denied allegations by panel members the NSA conducted electronic surveillance of Americans on U.S. soil." Given that this has been an ongoing program for years - and an open secret - clearly what Clapper said in his testimony was false. To give him a limited defense, he never should have been asked about that in a public forum by members of a Senate committee who were or should have been read into the program. His answer should have been to completely demur, offering to answer all questions about methods and practices in closed session. The fact that he didn't do that looks bad, but it is not one I would consider scandalous under the circumstances.

Two, just a reminder, from PJM today, this was Obama in a 2007 speech:

[The Bush] Administration also puts forward a false choice between the liberties we cherish and the security we demand. I will provide our intelligence and law enforcement agencies with the tools they need to track and take out the terrorists without undermining our Constitution and our freedom.

That means no more illegal wire-tapping of American citizens. No more national security letters to spy on citizens who are not suspected of a crime. No more tracking citizens who do nothing more than protest a misguided war. No more ignoring the law when it is inconvenient. That is not who we are. And it is not what is necessary to defeat the terrorists. The FISA court works. The separation of powers works. Our Constitution works. We will again set an example for the world that the law is not subject to the whims of stubborn rulers, and that justice is not arbitrary.

The utter, shameless moralizing and hypocrisy of Obama and the left certainly is a scandal - but it is one aspect of this that the MSM will ignore.


Thursday, June 6, 2013

Michael, Megyn & Going Down South Of The Border

Actor Michael Douglas has a new diet tip - watch what you eat.

Mr. Douglas now suffers from throat cancer. He claims that it originated from, to put it euphemistically, dining at the Y, where he became infected with the HPV virus. That in turn caused his cancer.

I think that I speak for all men - and I suspect all lesbians - when I exclaim "Say it ain't so!"

Fortunately, my angst was quickly mollified when Megyn Kelly at Fox News came on with the message, don't worry:

Cunning linguists everywhere may breath a sigh of relief.